Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Uncelebrated Faithfulness

David Meyer, someone in process of converting from the PCA to the Roman Catholic denomination, made some comments in a recent thread:

My Reformed ears were absolutely shocked at what I read from the early church fathers.

At seminary my friends who study the early church are neither shocked nor surprised. And they don't find such readings leading to Rome either.

Go ahead and call me a rube and say I don't know any better, but the fact is, history looks anything but Protestant... which was Newman's point.

Except Newman also implicitly concedes that the early church looked nothing like modern Catholicism. That's the critical takeaway from such a radical appeal to development; Newman's thesis strikes me as the kind of concession which makes reference to (and critiques of Protestantism based on) the early church functionally worthless. The question no longer becomes which denomination more closely resembles the early church (framed as it is on terms I would generally reject), but which denomination has the authority to properly develop the early tradition. Even if, as is often the case with Roman Catholic doctrine, the early church does not resemble the modern Magisterium's beliefs in any serious fashion, such is defensible because Rome ultimately has the authority to develop the early church's beliefs as it wills. But once this appeal is made, the debate has already shifted to a different field. Fidelity to the early church is simply a cover for fidelity to Rome.

More of the "they are dumb, that is why they convert." nonsense.

Ignorance is what we find among many converts, leading or otherwise, to Catholicism. They demonstrate a serious lack of knowledge about both the early church and the very Reformed doctrines which they claim they are rejecting. Concerning the former, I'm often able to determine from where a set of early church quotations has come by simply copying and pasting portions of it into a Google search. The results are predictable; the Catholic has simply lifted the entire set from some website, typos and all, without any evidence of critical interaction with those texts, let alone evidence of having at least read the context of those passages. They care more for the appearance of intellectualism than the hard work necessary to obtain the genuine product.

The latter failure of doctrinal comprehension is particularly revealing--they consistently fail to properly represent Reformed doctrines or demonstrate that they really understand them. This casts doubt on their claims to have seriously wrestled with the doctrines of the Reformation. It would seem these converts were (and are) more interested in inflating their egos than pursuing "the truth."

If we were to compare the big names I would dare to bet that of converts one way or the other, FAR MORE itellectuals (big names) go towards Rome than the other way around.

1. The top universities are filled with atheists, skeptics, agnostics, secular pluralists and all manner of anti-Trinitarian "Christians." The trend of "intellectuals" has been away from Christianity in general, so why would you appeal to such a thing? To be intellectual indicates little, if anything, necessarily positive about a person's spiritual state or about where the evidence leads.

2. Converts to Catholicism are notorious for dismissing the intellectual leaders of their denominations and acting as if such people are either irrelevant or downright heterodox. These converts behave as if they are the gate-keepers of true Catholic belief. The appeal to intellectualism is just a convenient abstraction.

3. Consider the nature of intellectuals in general. They often arrive at their status as "intellectual" by appealing to, pleasing and working within the fundamentally insular institutions which currently set and guard the standards of intellectual discourse and orthodoxy. But whether these standards properly represent truth is up for debate. And the "intellectual" life can be just as much about scholarship as it is about the cult of celebrity, worship of the ego and self-selection bias; indeed, the former often serves the latter. Intellectuals can hold certain positions or change beliefs for any set of reasons, none of which necessarily have to do with proper evaluations of evidence. The whole approach here seems to be nothing more than a refined appeal to consensus.

Please, I beg you, show me the equivalent of Called to Communion for the Protestants. I mean Protestants that were conservative Priests and men with degrees in theology from conservative Catholic seminaries, that then converted to the "protestant church" because of reasons of conscience.

This assumes a Protestant equivalent to Called to Communion is something to which we should aspire. But why would we want to engage in the cult of celebrity which defines the modern Roman Catholic apologetics industry? We should care about pointing people to Christ, not to conversion stories, even if these stories are overlaid with all the finery of sophistication and erudition.

And what would such a thing represent in general anyway? How many learned scholars and priests did Christ convert from the "intellectual" class of his day, scholars and priests who heard him preach, sometimes directly to them, knew his miracles and wrestled with his beliefs in light of their thorough knowledge of both the Scriptures and Jewish tradition? The response was clear and tragic--the intelligentsia lead the cries to crucify the Son of God. Whatever implicit standard you're offering here discredits the success of Christ's earthly ministry.

The true and better equivalent of Called to Communion, if we are to seek such a thing, is the uncelebrated faithfulness of countless Protestants who read the church fathers, benefit from their writings, and continue to faithfully serve the Gospel, instead of forsaking it for the fleeting egoism of being the center of a Catholic conversion narrative.

But perhaps you'd find this witness more convincing if these Protestants set up multiple blogging communities celebrating, not Christ, but their continued and steadfast adherence to Reformed doctrine.

32 comments:

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"How many learned scholars and priests did Christ convert from the "intellectual" class of his day, scholars and priests who heard him preach, sometimes directly to them, knew his miracles and wrestled with his beliefs in light of their thorough knowledge of both the Scriptures and Jewish tradition?"

Hopefully, Nicodemus did become a follower of the risen Christ.

(I don't know if it's proper to count the apostle Paul.)

-----

Very good post, Matthew. Thank you.

John said...

It looks like Dave is not alone in his move.

http://catholicquestioning.blogspot.com/2010/11/anglican-wisdom.html

Perhaps those bishops are just more ignorant converts.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

John writes:

Perhaps those bishops are just more ignorant converts.

Perhaps they are and perhaps they are not. Position is no sure indicator of true knowledge or a proper evaluation of evidence. And even if the evidence is properly evaluated, that does not necessarily mean someone will act in accord with it. Did you read the post before making your comment?

John said...

"Did you read the post before making your comment?"

Yes. I loved the part about copying and pasting. Coming from you I must admit is smiled at the irony after doing google searches of some of your past comments.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

John writes:

Yes. I loved the part about copying and pasting. Coming from you I must admit is smiled at the irony after doing google searches of some of your past comments.

Your next post provides either evidence to support your claim or a retraction of baseless slander. Failure to do either will result in deletion of future comments.

Tim Enloe said...

Matthew, excellent post.

The point about pointing people to convert stories rather than to Christ is essential, and ought to be continually made. Many of us have convert stories (mine from Evangelicalism to Reformed was up on the Internet for years). While these can serve to "put a face" on the person making the arguments, and while they can serve to highlight some matters for someone else who is having similar difficulties, ultimately the conversion experience is not the heart of real faith, and no matter how much someone else's "story" resonates with oneself, trying to duplicate THEIR experience ought not to be the defining characteristic of one's OWN life of faith.

It is telling, from the Reformed perspective, to notice how "Evangelical" the whole Catholic apologetics culture is, not least because of its extreme emphasis on the ups, downs, and finally, the joyous climax, of the conversion experience. Fixating on "the day I came home" is just like fixating on "the day I asked Jesus into my heart." It's a childish fixation on the lowest stage of the life of faith, not a mature fixation on the real meat and substance of the faith, Christ and Him crucified.

steelikat said...

Probably a good move for them. Crossing the Tiber is not what it would have been 400 years ago, and is substantially different even than it was 40 years ago. I bet most of their flocks, unlike most RC laymen in typical dioceses, will probably be able to give a halfway decent answer when asked about the basis for their salvation.

louis said...

"they consistently fail to properly represent Reformed doctrines or demonstrate that they really understand them."

This is very true. I was surprised to see this from "intellectuals" like those in the C-to-C crowd, but it is as true of them as anybody.

"This casts doubt on their claims to have seriously wrestled with the doctrines of the Reformation."

It does, but there may be something else at play also. A conversion, by definition, involves a change in worldview, and it's possible they just don't understand the Reformed faith like they used to. They think in different categories now.

Whether or not they ever truly understood Reformed doctrine, they shouldn't be looked to as authorities on the subject now.

Tim Enloe said...

Not often, steelikat. Most of these converts are from Evangelical backgrounds, and so they tend to either (1) react against the "Jesus in my heart" pietism of their background by going gung-ho for Catholicism's rituals and culture, or (2) they tend to piously romanticize the Catholic doctrines they have embraced upon conversion.

If the former, they actually begin to talk as if going to Mass and saying the Rosary and doing all the penances and, most importantly, believing all the de fide doctrines of the Church, are the basis of their salvation. Some go flying off into the La-La-Land of metaphysics, and begin to talk all the time as if they are "safe and secure from all alarm" because they have the proper view of "authority."

If the latter, just like they did when they were Evangelicals, they find prooftexts - no matter how strained they have to make them - for every doctrine they have accepted, and make out that, no, really, Catholicism just IS the most biblical thing going. Catholicism, amazingly, has everything good that everyone else only thinks they have, but minus the deleterious things that everyone else demonstrably has.

There are exceptions to these two reactions here and there - but they are few and far between.

John said...

I was most thinking of your recent use of the quotes from the standard textbook on logic regarding the subject of ad hominem. Perhaps you do have that text on your shelf, however it took little time at all and I was able to google your comment and find it readily available online. I am not saying there is anything wrong with copying and pasting and I encourage doing so when it helps ones argument. No baseless slander was intended from my end.

John Bugay said...

Tim, this is a bit off topic but it could be pertinent here. I wanted to follow up with you on your comment about [the real] Turretin having commented on ecclesiology in his "25th Topic."

His 3 vols only go up to 20 topics, and so I'm wondering if you could re-check that citation when you get a chance.

steelikat said...

Sorry, when I said "probably a good move for them" I was specifically talking about the five anglican bishops mentioned in a previous comment and their flocks.

I wouldn't know what to make of a more general proposition (all people who convert to Roman Catholicism?) Í think I'd say you cannot generalize.

Tim Enloe said...

I left that volume of Turretin at home again, John. I will try to remember to bring it with me tomorrow. I probably miscopied the reference from another source, because I do remember reading Turretin talking about "emergency measures."

John Bugay said...

Tim, I wouldn't expect you to carry that around :-)

I'm just a bit curious about it.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

John writes:

I was most thinking of your recent use of the quotes from the standard textbook on logic regarding the subject of ad hominem. Perhaps you do have that text on your shelf, however it took little time at all and I was able to google your comment and find it readily available online.

You can't find the exact quotes I provided, without additional context, on any site. You can find whole chapters of material from what looks to be similar versions of the text, but that's essentially the same as owning the entire work. There is no irony here since, even if I had drawn from online sources, I would not have copied and pasted quotations in the same uncritical manner as many Catholics use quotes from the early church fathers. And the kind of material is substantially different in any case.

As it stands, I do own the book:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2754700&id=813349&l=cccad9c17b

John said...

Well Matthew I am pleased that you do in fact own the book in question from which you copied and pasted. I withdraw my criticism of you accordingly. Please accept my humble apology.

Constantine said...

Hey....

John stole my picture!!

Constantine said...

Another convert from the PCA.

Move over Gerry Matatics!

Somebody send David the links to sedevacantism - that's probably his next stop.

Peace.

James Swan said...

Ignorance is what we find among many converts, leading or otherwise, to Catholicism. They demonstrate a serious lack of knowledge about both the early church and the very Reformed doctrines which they claim they are rejecting. Concerning the former, I'm often able to determine from where a set of early church quotations has come by simply copying and pasting portions of it into a Google search. The results are predictable; the Catholic has simply lifted the entire set from some website, typos and all, without any evidence of critical interaction with those texts, let alone evidence of having at least read the context of those passages. They care more for the appearance of intellectualism than the hard work necessary to obtain the genuine product.

Indeed.

This was a wonderful post Matthew- It would also make a good paper if you delete Mr. Meyer's comments. It really describes RC- Convert syndrome.

Rhology said...

Great post. that's why you get the big bucks, I presume.

John Bugay said...

Matthew gets big bucks? I didn't hear about that!

john said...

I have to admit that I was suckered into returning to the RCC by these internet Catholic Apologists about ten years ago. At that time I read very little Early Church History (as a Historian my focus was "Modern History" about 1700 to the present. After I returned I layed low from the internet for a bit just reading RC stuff online. After a while after an illness that left me hospitalised and then in physical therapy (3 years altogether) I decided to be a Catholic Apologist so I studied, I came came back online feet first defending Rome, but as I started doing more research, I mean REAL History written by peer reviewed academic Historians, reading some Church Fathers from what they actually wrote, and serious Biblical study and hermeneutics, I saw that ALL of Rome's claims are absolutely false, Rome has invented Dogmas that are not only not found in the Bible but are contrary to what the Bible says, Rome has built Dogmas on hearsay and legends (Marian Dogmas), invented Purgatory based on Pagan Mythology, Neo-Platonist Philosophy, and the "visions" of people who were Biblical illiterates (Pope Gregory) and individuals who were still half Pagan and were ignorant of the Bible. I coin my own "cutesy saying" in Parody of John Newman:

"To be Deep in History is to cease being an Evangelical, to be deeper in History still and know the real facts is to cease to be Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox".

John Bugay said...

I was suckered into returning to the RCC by these internet Catholic Apologists about ten years ago. … but as I started doing more research, I mean REAL History written by peer reviewed academic Historians, reading some Church Fathers from what they actually wrote, and serious Biblical study and hermeneutics, I saw that ALL of Rome's claims are absolutely false, Rome has invented Dogmas that are not only not found in the Bible but are contrary to what the Bible says …

John, thanks for reminding us that there is "life after Rome."

Any of you "Catholic converts" from the Reformed world out there -- keep in mind that the Holy Spirit may continue to work on you. You may begin to get creepy feelings when you watch someone kiss a statue. You may wonder why you're worshipping a little white circle of something that's not even real bread. Don't think you've "arrived" at the "fullness of the faith." You've really gotten yourself into some deep doo-doo.

But Christ is in the business of cleaning people off and setting them on right paths again.

I'm just sayin'.

James Swan said...

"To be Deep in History is to cease being an Evangelical, to be deeper in History still and know the real facts is to cease to be Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox".

Out of curiousity, where exactly does "Deep in History" end up?

steve said...

James Swan said...

"Out of curiousity, where exactly does 'Deep in History' end up?"

That terminates somewhere between the Quarternary and the Cretaceous.

Geologists are still scouring the fossil record for missing links connecting Peter to the Roman "primates." Experts differ on whether Pierolapithecus was a pope or antipope.

John Bugay said...

Steve, ROFLOL, Pierolapithecus = "Primate." I'm at work, you can't be doing this to me!

http://www.google.com/images?q=Pierolapithecus&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=t-baTPjkI4KC8gah8ezpCA&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CCYQsAQwAA&biw=1232&bih=829

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

John: "I have to admit that I was suckered into returning to the RCC by these internet Catholic Apologists about ten years ago."

Hi John,

Here's a comment by ChaferDTS that roughly parallels your account:

"I experienced this first hand having grown up since birth in the RCC and leaving it as an adult when I was 19. This was a core issue for me on needing to reject Roman Catholicism. The other issue was Sola Fida. At that time I looked in to Luther, Calvin and other reformers to see what they believed and how they supported it both biblically and historically. I saw for myself that they were correct on Sola Scripture and Sola Fide. They had the clear support of the church fathers on the issue of Sola Scripture having seen this in the church father writings themselves as I read them for myself. Great job TF and youself . Just post the correct information out there as you have done. Some will come to see it and come to reject Roman Catholicism and embrace the five Solas as I have done over 18 years ago. Keep up the good work. I know it does get frustrating in dealing with Roman Catholics but it is worth it in the end when in heaven you will see how God used you in getting people out of Roman Catholicism due to it's doctrinal errors."

ChaferDTS said...

Just to be noted I never returned to the RCC after I left it in June 1992.

Ikonophile said...

john,

"To be Deep in History is to cease being an Evangelical, to be deeper in History still and know the real facts is to cease to be Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox".

Yes, I'm sure we all have our own variations based on what we've read and how deep we've gone. Sadly, I cannot concur in regards to the Orthodox Comment. I've done nothing but read source material (as much as I can get my hands on for free or very cheap, anyway) and I'm still Orthodox to this day.

John

steve said...

"To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant."

- John Henry Newman

"To be deep in history is to be deep in trilobites."

- Stephen Jay Gould

Frank said...

Except Newman also implicitly concedes that the early church looked nothing like modern Catholicism.

Exactly! Unfortunately, converts don't recognize this. Their reasoning seems to be, "The early church doesn't look like Protestantism! What am I to do?? Well, if I embrace the development hypothesis, then Rome will look like the early church! Yes, this makes sense."

One wonders why they don't just embrace the development hypothesis in favor of one of the Reformation traditions?

steelikat said...

"embrace the development hypothesis"

Indeed one must do this and it's nothing to be afraid of. Development occurred, in both positive and negative ways, until the church degenerated in a way that obscured the gospel and a works-based system developed. Then the reformation restored gospel purity to the western church (though not so much to the part that rejected the reformation-the current RCC).

So the church is the product of 2000 years of development, an inevitability as change is the, as they say, "the one constant" and 2000 years of time has actually passed.